Dealing With A Husband’s Pornography Addiction
February 6th, 2013
You’re probably not the first naked woman your husband has seen. I don’t have to know your husband to be pretty certain of that, especially if he was born after 1980.
We hear about pornography in every General Conference, in almost every stake conference, and plenty often on Sundays in between. We hear about pornography because it’s everywhere. (As any bishop will tell you in general terms, pornography affects a huge number of men in every LDS congregation, including upstanding men you’d never suspect of having a problem.) It’s affected most of us, in some way or another, and your husband is probably not an exception.
Just because he’s seen porn doesn’t mean he looks for it, or has an addiction. He may, like Joseph of Egypt, run at the first sign of temptation.
But maybe he didn’t run. Maybe he was sitting alone at his computer late one night, saw something, and followed it. Maybe he seeks it out. Maybe he looks at it a little too much. Maybe he even has an addiction. He wouldn’t be the first. It doesn’t make him a bad man… but it does need to be addressed if it’s causing problems in your marriage.
What problems can porn cause in my marriage?
It’s hard to say exactly how much pornography is too much. For some — particularly among those in LDS marriages — the answer is “Any porn is too much.” For others, once a month may be too often, or once a week. Researchers Dr. Michael Twohig and Jesse Crosby say “problematic pornography viewing” means “viewing pornography more than 3 times per week on some weeks” and add that “the viewing causes difficulty in general life functioning.”
The bottom line is that pornography use becomes a real problem when it starts hurting your marriage. That can take on a thousand different appearances, but there are some common effects excessive pornography use has on marriages. Here are a few:
- you’ve started feeling old, unattractive, and/or undesirable, but don’t know exactly why
- your husband compares your body to unrealistic body types and health standards
- your husband has stopped being interested in sex
- you’re suddenly spending less time together
- communication in your marriage seems to be struggling for no identifiable reason
- you feel an unexplainable distance between you and your husband
- you feel like you can’t trust your husband but can’t say exactly why
- when you’re being intimate, you feel like your husband is “checked out” or “not really there”
- your husband has developed a sudden interest in extreme sexual activities that he’s never shown interest in before, and can’t be aroused by “normal” (for you) sex
- your husband seems less respectful than usual to you and women in general
- your husband has developed erectile dysfunction or another performance issue that can’t be attributed to age, stress, or health problems
Of course, most of these signs may have other causes, including work stress, depression, poor communication, and a lack of quality time together; however, if you notice more than a few of these signs, there’s a good chance excessive porn use is in play.
It’s important to note that excessive porn use doesn’t automatically mean porn addiction. There’s very little formal research on pornography addiction, and no official diagnosis of “pornography addiction” exists in the medical community. Some totally unscientific but useful rules of thumb, though, are that pornography may qualify as an addiction when:
- its use interferes with daily life (for example, he neglects errands or social engagements to view pornography)
- he would rather view porn than have sex with you
- he refuses to acknowledge it as a problem, and becomes defensive and even aggressive when you bring up the subject
- when abstaining from porn, he displays typical dopamine withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, hostility, depression, listlessness, anxiety, and sleeplessness
- he can’t abstain for a set period of time (say, anywhere from three days to two weeks) even when he wants to
Having made that distinction between “excessive use” and “addiction,” however, this article will use the terms interchangeably throughout, as most of what’s said here applies to both.
For more information on the signs of addiction, check out “7 Signs of Addiction” by Barb Rogers.
How do I talk to my husband about his pornography use?
First, know that this is as hard for him as it is for you. Something many wives don’t understand is how devastating porn addiction is to men. After talking about this subject with many couples affected by porn use, I can say without qualification that being addicted to porn eats these guys up. They feel terrible about themselves, they feel like worthless husbands, they feel like they’ve lost all their manliness and self-control… and the research suggests that what seems to help them most is affirmation from a wife or therapist or whoever that they’re still good human beings even if they struggle. That takes a lot of the taboo/guilt element out that’s deeply tied to sexuality for a lot of men, and once that’s gone, porn stops being as attractive to them.
Second, try to get a little emotional distance before you start this conversation. His addiction doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a wife, it doesn’t mean you’re undesirable, and it doesn’t mean you haven’t been good enough. It means his brain has become dependent on the chemical highs that porn gives him. It doesn’t have anything to do with you. Try to remember this and stay calm during this conversation… even if he gets defensive.
Third, remember that you love him. His looking at porn may have changed some aspects of your relationship, and it may have hurt the way you view him. But under that, he’s still the same adorable, goofy, loving, dorky, handsome, clever guy you married, and he needs a lot of your love and compassion right now. This doesn’t mean you have to sugarcoat your concerns: you just need to present them with as much Christlike love and forgiveness as you can.
Fourth, be honest, even blunt. We’ve mostly realized by now that most guys don’t do well with hints and double meanings and inflections and all those things we women are so good at in our conversations. Be straight with him.
Fifth, pick the right time. Pick a time when you’re feeling close, loving, and unstressed. If you try to bring this up while he’s panicking over a deadline at work, right after a fight about the proper way to load the dishwasher, or when one of you is tired or distracted, it’s not going to go well. Find a time and a place where you can take your time and be relaxed. You might want to tell your husband that you want to talk to him, but then schedule the discussion for a public place, such as a park or cafe, where you’re less likely to become overly emotional.
What you’ll actually say is going to vary depending on who you are, who he is, who you are as a couple, and your surroundings. The usual rules of good communication apply: don’t attack, use clear language, and explain your needs and feelings without making assumptions about your husband’s. A few sample openers might look like this:
“I found a bunch of things on your computer that I’m uncomfortable with. You looking at pornography is not okay with me. It hurts me, and it hurts our marriage, and I know you don’t want that. Are you okay to talk about this right now or is there another time that would be better for you? I don’t want you to feel attacked; I just want us to address this together.”
“I’m worried about our sex life. I’ve noticed that you seem to have lost interest. I’ve noticed that the computer history is always wiped and you haven’t initiated sex for months, which isn’t like you. I’m pretty sure pornography is involved. Am I wrong?”
“I know you’ve been looking at porn lately. I’m trying to be patient, but it’s really hurting me. I feel like I’ve done something wrong to make you not want me anymore, and I don’t feel pretty anymore, or like I’m really your wife. I can’t compete with the stuff you’re looking at. And I feel like there’s this huge distance between us. Can we please see a counselor or something and work on this together? I miss you.”
How can I help my husband overcome pornography addiction?
There are a lot of theories on how best to overcome pornography addiction, but very little research to back them up — internet porn, which is the culprit in most porn addictions, is a relatively new phenomenon and there simply hasn’t been enough time to study it properly.
Having said that, the research that has been done is incredibly helpful when dealing porn addiction. We’ll talk about that in a second. But first, a disclaimer:
As the wife of someone struggling with excessive porn use, you can’t fix it. This is your husband’s battle to fight, and in the end, he has to overcome it. You may do everything exactly right and he may still struggle. But you can help, and you can be his greatest ally and support.
So let’s talk about how you can support your husband.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Out of all the therapy programs designed for people with porn addictions, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) seems to be among the most effective. ACT therapy rests on the principle that a person can change behavior without first changing beliefs or feelings. For example, rather than saying “I am a porn addict but I am too weak to change,” someone with an addiction accepts all aspects of himself: “I am a porn addict AND I feel weak.”
ACT doesn’t simply try to avoid the problematic behavior; instead, it encourages active pursuit of a positive goal. Rather than “I won’t look at porn today,” someone using ACT may instead decide, “I’m going to have sex with my wife and put all my attention on her” or “I usually run into trouble when I’m home alone on Saturday mornings. This Saturday morning, I’m going to get a bunch of people together for volleyball.”
Additionally, ACT can be used with or without the help of a therapist. That means you can use these principles at home without any outside help (though of course you should enlist the help of a therapist or counselor if you feel you need the extra assistance).
ACT, at its most basic level, involves A: accepting your reactions and being present, C: choosing a valued direction, and T: taking action.. In pornography addiction, ACT may look something like:
A: Joe comes to terms with his addiction.
“I use porn too much and I have a hard time stopping. As of this moment, I consider myself addicted to pornography. I look at it an average of four to five times a week, and I’m having trouble becoming aroused without using it.” Next time he’s viewing porn, he may think or even say aloud, “I am looking at porn right now; I feel a compulsion to look at this and I have a hard time turning it off.”
C: Joe chooses a valued direction.
“I want to be strong enough to only look at porn once a month or less. Eventually I want to never look at it. I also want my sexual relationship with my wife to improve, and I want to be able to become aroused without viewing stimulating images.”
T: Joe takes action.
The next time he feels the urge to look at porn, Joe may choose to go be physically active. If he does end up looking at it, he may choose to stop himself by being present (step A) and realizing that he’s engaging in a behavior he doesn’t actually want to engage in. He may schedule time to reconnect with his wife both emotionally and sexually, and may enlist the help of a marriage counselor or sex therapist. He may also take action toward developing his spiritual life.
As a wife, you can help your husband use the ACT process by encouraging him to be present (step A), reminding him of the end goal he’s trying to reach (step C), and helping him figure out behaviors and tactics that will help him bring about changes in his behavior (step T).
For more information on the ACT process, check out:
Of course, ACT isn’t the only effective form of treatment out there. For more online resources and recovery programs, look into Brigham Young University-Idaho’s Overcoming Compulsive Behaviors website, which includes helpful information on meeting real needs that have been disguised by compulsions and a detailed recovery program designed by BYU-I’s Counseling Center therapists.
Therapists, Counselors, and Support Groups
If you feel like you need outside help with this addiction, get it. If your husband is willing to see a counselor with you, wonderful; if not, it can still be helpful to go alone to learn techniques for helping him and to discuss your experiences and struggles.
Finding a good therapist you relate to is important. Don’t be afraid to shop around until you find someone you trust and connect with. For information on finding a good therapist, check out “10 Ways to Find a Good Therapist” by Alvira G. Aletta, PhD. If you’d prefer a counselor familiar with LDS doctrine and standards, consider becoming involved with LDS Family Services’ counselors and support groups.
We’ve talked about how to talk to your husband about porn use and how to help him recover from pornography addiction. But now, dear sister, it’s time to turn to you.
How can I help myself recover from my husband’s pornography use?
It’s important to understand the magnitude of what you’re dealing with. If your spouse has an actual addiction to pornography, you’ll be in this battle for the long haul. Some researchers believe that pornography can be a harder addiction to overcome than cocaine, due to the fact that pornographic images can create addictive and desensitizing dopamine spikes in the brain similar to those created by hard drugs, and such images can stay in the brain long-term. Because of this, it’s important that you make a habit of taking care of yourself in addition to cheering your husband on.
As you probably already know, a husband’s pornography use can be deeply hurtful to women. Commonly, wives and girlfriends of porn addicts experience:
- feelings of abandonment, like their husband has emotionally left them
- damaged self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness
- insecurity about their bodies — feel that they aren’t attractive, thin, curvy, or sexy enough
- intense feelings of betrayal, similar to feelings that might arise if their husband or boyfriend had cheated on them
- increased concern that their husband or boyfriend will cheat on them
- depression, even up to suicidal thoughts
- confusion, wondering what they’ve done wrong
- strong feelings of self-blame, often for not being interesting or sexy enough to hold their husband’s attention
- a flat sex life, in which they always initiate sex and their husband doesn’t seem to be interested in or present during sex
- feelings of disgust at the thought of being intimate with their husband, especially if they believe he’s picturing other women during sex
- intense loneliness, which can be compounded by not being able to discuss the problem with friends or family
- a loss of interest in caring for their bodies or making an effort to be attractive, coupled with a sense of “What’s the use?”
- breakdown in communication and a feeling that the husband/boyfriend’s pornography use can’t be discussed
- a sense of increased stress or irritability
If you’re experiencing one, or many, of these effects, don’t despair: You’re not alone, and you will feel beautiful, worthwhile, and happy again.
You may have to make a lot of the effort yourself. It can be hard to nurture yourself — especially when you don’t feel like you’re getting adequate love or attention from your husband — but it’s important to try to lift yourself up and out of the middle of your husband’s addiction. Your health and positive attitude will help both of you, and dealing with your husband’s porn use will be easier if you’re coming from a nurtured, grounded place.
So… How do you overcome these negative, hurt feelings?
Love your body
Even if you feel ugly or rejected right now, your body still needs you to love it and care for it. This can take a lot of forms: do what works for you, whether that means manicures, massages, difficult bike rides, a fabulous new scarf, giant earrings, yoga, dancing around the house to “Gangnam Style” like a crazy person, eating lots of veggies, or taking long hot baths with a little lavender essential oil in the water. You probably already know what makes your body feel great. Go do it. Now. Regularly. Heaven knows it’s not easy to find the time… but this needs to be a priority. Marriage and family therapist Geoff Steurer found that “women who make physical self-care a priority heal much faster from the impact of their husband’s secretive behaviors.”
This physical self-care plays two important roles: First, it improves the way you view your body. A spouse’s porn addiction can be devastating to your body image, and taking care of your body is a way to fight back and assert your right, in your own mind, to be beautiful and strong. Second, taking care of your body — especially through exercise, healthy eating, and relaxation techniques such as baths, meditation, and massage — helps clear out the toxins and stress chemicals that flood your body when you’re upset. You’re probably upset pretty often if you’re dealing with a serious porn problem, so it’s important to let the adrenaline and other chemicals do their thing and then clear out of your system.
Express your emotions
You probably have a lot of emotions going on right now. The feelings that accompany a husband’s addiction can be almost frightening in their intensity, and it’s vital to let them out. You may be visual and express yourself well through painting or collages. You may express yourself best through writing, and might want to keep a journal or anonymous blog to chronicle your feelings. Maybe you’re verbal, and need a close friend or therapist you can vent to and explore your emotions with. Maybe you’re physical and work through feelings best by going for long runs and hitting punching bags. Whatever works for you is great. The important thing is that you find some way to let your feelings out — ideally without flooding your spouse with too much anger and sadness. Buried feelings never die, and if you don’t find someplace to channel them, they’re just going to pile up until they’re truly unmanageable. So go do something. Express yourself. Find someone to talk to. Heck… Talk to us. We’re here.
Get your brain involved
Knowledge is power. This is a great opportunity to learn about the effects of pornography on the brain, the power of addiction, and how you best deal with difficult situations like this. Explore. As one woman with a porn-addicted boyfriend said, “I had a really hard time with it. Then I learned about how pornography is as addictive as cocaine, and I went ‘Oh. That’s what he’s dealing with.’ I realized it wasn’t about me.” Sometimes framing an emotionally difficult situation in logical, intellectual terms can be a great way to take the edge off the hurt and frustration, and you may discover knowledge that can help you help your husband.
Reconnect with your spirituality
A husband’s porn addiction can be a huge blow to your spiritual life. It’s a stressful situation, and you may be almost desperate for a miracle, now. But we know God doesn’t usually work that way, and this is a good opportunity to get back to the small and simple things that bring you closer to Him. Use this as a chance for honest heart-to-heart prayers, both alone and with your spouse. Seek counsel from the scriptures. Find time to sit quietly and meditate, allowing painful feelings to surface as well as inspired thoughts. Make the pursuit of God a priority. You may be disappointed to realize your husband isn’t perfect. God is, however, and He can give you wisdom and patience through this trial.
Use sacred spaces
Some of the most powerful aids in healing from a husband’s porn use are sacred spaces — places that help you feel grounded, calm, and in touch with your emotions and spirit. This may be your garden, the local public park, the temple, or the open stretch of highway during a long drive. You know where you feel most at home and most in touch with that wise, patient part of yourself. Spend time in these places. They’ll comfort you, reassure you, and keep you feeling solid and secure.
Talk about it
We are women, and women need to talk to other women. Find a friend or community you can share this struggle with. Simply having someone listen to you without judgment can be deeply healing, and the perspectives of other women can inspire you to new thoughts and actions. Pornography addiction is a touchy subject, and you may not feel comfortable discussing that deeply personal struggle with anyone who knows you or your husband personally. If that’s the case, you’re in luck: You have the internet, and the internet is full of women who share your struggles. Online forums for wives of porn addicts and hotlines are available to provide you with resources and encouragement.
It’s also important to talk to your husband about his porn use and its effects on you.
A Few Last Words
Healing from a husband’s porn use can take a long time, especially if he has a serious addiction. But there are many resources available to help you, even if your husband isn’t yet committed to long-term recovery.
The most important resource, of course, is Christ, who is always available and always ready to love and help you. Lean on Him. You’re never alone.
How do you and your husband work together to combat pornography in your home? Share in the comments.